NEW YORK – They lost often, as in 67 times for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Sometimes they lost always, as in 26 straight times for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Now the NBA’s biggest losers have a chance for a huge win.
The Draft Lottery is tonight, a night some teams appeared to be aiming toward for months during a season featuring plenty of talking about tanking. The winner receives the No. 1 pick in next month’s draft, when an Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker might make all of this season’s misery worth it.
It’s a potential make-or-break night for some teams.
“To me it’s part of the mystery and part of the enjoyment in seeing who’s right, who’s wrong,” commissioner Adam Silver said recently. “Will these perceived great players coming into the draft really be in a position to turn around teams? So it’s part of the fun.”
The Bucks and 76ers are enjoying the process, and trying to bring their fans in on the good times. There’s a viewing party in Milwaukee where all fans get a pingpong ball. The 76ers were giving away a trip to New York.
Silver is aware of the tanking speculation and uneasy that fans might think NBA teams were willing to take their money without caring if they win the games. But he understands that teams sometimes need to rebuild, and that may mean going straight to the bottom.
“The jury is out on the strategy and I think that makes for good copy as well. I’m intrigued,” Silver said.
“I read both sides of it in terms of, is that the right way to build a team? What impact does it have on culture? Can you rebuild a team in two years, can you rebuild in three years? Silver said. “And I am mindful that in a league of 30 teams that we’re also selling competition on a nightly basis and I don’t want to create a sense that we want to subject fans to subpar performances because don’t worry, it’s going to be great three years from now.”
The Bucks have a 25 percent chance to win and give incoming new ownership a great welcoming gift. Philadelphia (19.9 percent), Orlando (15.6) and Utah (10.4) have the next-best chances, with Boston and the Lakers behind them after rare poor seasons.
But this was a season where for some teams, a job well done meant doing their jobs poorly. After a forgettable draft in 2013, this one is considered much more promising, good enough that some teams who knew they weren’t going to win decided they would be better off if they lost.
Philadelphia owner Joshua Harris even called his team’s season a “huge success” after its 19-63 record included a 26-game skid that matched the longest in NBA history. The Sixers might have topped the list, but they weren’t alone among suspected tankers this season.
“I thought it was pretty crazy that teams were doing that. But they’re saying this is going to be one of the toughest draft classes since 2003,” Indiana University star Noah Vonleh said.
That class produced LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony, so if this draft really is that good, it’s hard to blame any teams for trying to get to the top of it.
The fact that so many did has sparked new calls to change the lottery process so as to not invite tanking. Silver said it will be looked at over the summer, but as the lottery turns 30, there isn’t a perfect idea for how to run it.
“I think for us, we’ve got to make sure we understand whether there’s an aberration here because of the perception of a particular draft class, whether indeed there is a better way of do it,” Silver said, “because of course at the same time you want to properly align incentives, but the very purpose of the draft is to help the worst teams restock.”